7 April 2017 Interview

Google: digital skills

Google MD UK & Ireland, Ronan Harris, explains why digital skills matter to everyone - individuals and businesses large and small

Q: What is Google Digital Garage?

A: The Digital Garage is a free digital skills training programme through which we try to ensure the benefits of the digital economy are spread across the country to businesses big and small alike. Our aim with the Digital Garage is to make sure that every individual and business in the UK has the support they need to make the most of online tools to innovate, compete and have fruitful careers in the digital age.

In the UK, we face a digital skills gap and we want to help close that gap

This is why we are offering everyone in the UK five free hours of digital skills training - both online and face to face. This includes workshops and sessions on anything from helping businesses get online for the first time, to getting better at web analytics to using digital campaigns to export and boost growth.

Q: Why does the UK need to improve its digital skills?

A: The impact of digital shapes all of our lives, both professionally and personally. As someone who runs a business, I know it can sometimes be hard to find employees with the right digital skills. In the UK, we face a digital skills gap and we want to help close that gap and open up new opportunities for business to grow.

Our research shows over half (51 per cent) of small businesses say young people are not learning enough digital skills and nearly a third (29 per cent) feel the cost of training is putting them off learning basic digital skills.  

Q: Are you offering this in other geographies?

A: Yes. As you can imagine, the UK isn’t the only place where businesses and individuals can benefit from digital skills training. According to the European Commission around 45 per cent of Europeans have only basic digital skills. So we’ve extended the programme and trained two million Europeans in

For businesses that haven’t traditionally needed digital skills they're now the difference between success and failure

the past couple of years. Similarly, we have also helped to train a million people in Africa, giving people across both continents access to better employment and the skills to start their own businesses.

Q: Who is taking up the offer?

A: The training is open to everyone in the UK, whether they are a large or small business or an individual looking to learn more and improve their job prospects.

We have an online training course with more than 20 topics which allows users to tailor their learning experience and focus on the areas where they think they need help. We are also bringing face to face training to 100 locations across the country throughout the year with a few big hubs opening on a few high streets soon. During the in-person training we provide workshops, as well as one-to-one mentoring sessions where businesses can come for personalised advice.

Q: What are the most frequent skills issues you see among UK businesses?

A: It’s a real mixture, there are some businesses that haven’t traditionally needed digital skills but that are learning that in a digitally connected world, being able to be found by a potential customer looking for products or services on their mobile is the difference between success and failure.

Then there are people who have started their own businesses and need to figure out how to promote it. For both of these groups being able to market themselves online via social media, search and on mobile is key.

Machine learning is the secret sauce in many of our products. We share many of our machine-learning tools with businesses

For instance, at our Leeds Garage, Jonathon Blackburn, who runs a business called The Houseman that specialises in property maintenance and refurbishment, had a one-to-one session with an AdWords specialist to learn more about keyword and ad placement. Within 24 hours he started to see quality leads coming through and Jonathon is now turning over the same in a month than in his first year of business.

Q: What are the most exciting current digital trends in the UK?

A: Well, we believe that machine learning is the future of computing - and it is important because it can bring such amazing improvements for everyone from businesses to users. In many ways, it’s already here. Machine learning is the secret sauce in many of our most successful products and it helps solve some of the ho-hum problems in your daily life. From powering translation in Google Translate, categorising your photos in Google Photos or filtering spam in Gmail. We also share many of our machine-learning tools with businesses so they can develop their applications, so it’s good for companies to watch this space.

But taking a step back, I think we all need to look beyond tech trends and focus on the big opportunity represented by the huge growth in the online population. Four billion people across the world are going to come online in the next three years. That’s a massive opportunity for UK business to go out and connect with this new audience and grow their businesses while doing so. 

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